After arranging for Angela Davis, Bishop Marvin Sapp and Spike Lee to speak on multiple panels at the seventh National Action Network Annual Convention, Ashley Sharpton returned to her preferable position, in the background. Unlike her father, Sharpton does not enjoy the spotlight.
The NAN National Convention will be held April 26 to April 29 at the Sheraton Times Square Hotel. Each day is filled with panels of guest speakers who will cover topics such as mental health in the Black community, organization in the Trump era and informing the youth on how they can make a difference in politics.
The self-proclaimed “soldier for change” is the youngest daughter of The Rev. Al Sharpton and Kathy Jordan.
Sharpton, 29, did not let her reserved demeanor hinder her from being active in the community. She is the founder and president of Sharpton Entertainment, and her long-term relationship with the NAN granted her the opportunity to organize and direct the NAN Youth H.U.D.D.L.E., Helping and Uniting Dreamers to Develop Lead and Empower.
The last day of the NAN National Convention has been coined Youth Day. Sharpton Entertainment hosts an annual fashion show at the end of Youth Day that usually has 500 to 800 people in attendance. The free show includes clean and positive performances from artists. Many celebrities attend to motivate the youth. “It’s a great way to keep young people creative,” said Sharpton. “Art and activism is combined.”
Sharpton Entertainment was founded in 2008 to help underground artists, models and designers enter mainstream media. Sharpton was inspired by her mother’s former job as the Amateur Night coordinator at the Apollo.
“The original organization was called Harlem Inc.,” said Sharpton. “I started that as a hobby. I grew up in the entertainment business and I loved going to shows. I wanted to create my own version of the Apollo, but I wanted to do it with young people from the streets.”
The premiere show under the Harlem Inc. name was performed in front of the Harlem State Office building in 2006. Although the talent show was not offered last year, it had been running for 10 years and had showcased Harlem talent such as Teyana Taylor and ASAP Ferg.
Sharpton believes her goal to provide a platform for the youth was accomplished because of her father’s access to influential people.
“At that time people were rapping and dancing outside, so I wanted to bring it together, but I wanted to do it for free,” said Sharpton. “[The showcase] was like a baby Apollo.”
Although her last name is associated with perks and criticism, she wanted to disconnect herself from it completely.
“I had a hard time realizing who I was, because I was always just a Sharpton,” she said. “I had a hard time accepting my name. I would tell people to just call me Ashley. I used to hate it when people said, ‘Ms. Sharpton.’ I just wanted to be Ashley.”
Sharpton credits her father’s legacy and advice for helping her accept who she was. Her father told her that if she was not aware of who she is, she would never know where she is going and would be lost in the world.
“I was so lost in college, because I was rejecting who I was,” said Sharpton, a Hampton University alumna. “I had to embrace and love who I was. I had to do research on who my own father was. I was rejecting my name so much that I was ignoring the movement, even though I grew up in it.”
Once Sharpton realized her purpose and accepted her surname, everything began to fall into place.
“After college, when Trayvon Martin was killed, something changed in me,” said Sharpton. “I was sad, but I was also angry. I was resenting the movement.”
After questioning the acts of the judicial system and the African-American community, Sharpton began to question herself and what she was contributing to the movement. Realizing she had not spoken up about the case, Sharpton put together a panel to discuss Trayvon Martin and what actions were needed.
The NAN Youth H.U.D.D.L.E was formed by Sharpton in December 2013, when she noticed a large number of young people at panels centered around police brutality and hatred.
“A lot of young people wanted to do something, but they just didn’t know what to do,” said Sharpton. “I decided to have a forum that would allow the community to speak, attract more young people, and we can get more things done.”
She doesn’t like to lead the meetings. Sometimes young readers or professionals speak to the kids. “I enjoy it because it’s their place to be cool,” she said.
Sharpton and her older sister, Dominique, grew up attending NAN rallies and protests. They also sang in the NAN choir. The NAN Youth H.U.D.D.L.E. is Sharpton’s contribution to a safe space in the community.
“Those who aren’t the most popular in school shine at H.U.D.D.L.E, because this is an outlet for them to speak,” said Sharpton. “We don’t judge them. It’s not about what you have on. It’s not about your latest sneakers. It’s about what you have in your brain, and [H.U.D.D.L.E] gives them a voice to speak out. We don’t tease you for being smart. It is actually praised.”
Although Sharpton considers herself more of a soldier than a leader, her dream is to continue to focus on social justice for the youth while being a media mogul.
“I never had a voice,” she said. “I left that to Rev. I’m the quiet Sharpton. My mom and sister speak their mind. I was always the quiet one.”
But still waters run deep.
“Every day of my life I fight for something,” said Sharpton. “[Activism] is in my blood, and my bones. Even when I am not trying, I am advocating for something. But I am not a leader, I’m a soldier. We all have roads and I chose that road.”
Sharpton told the AmNews, “My dream is to be a media mogul … but I will also like to focus on the social justice with youth.”
She was arrested a few weeks ago for protesting in front of Trump Tower, her first arrest, alongside Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner. The charges were dropped last week.
“I was proud to do it,” Sharpton said. “I stood up for something I believe in, and I humbly endorse it. I was arrested for the cause. We will continue to do what we have to do, whether people support it or not. I am glad that we came away without a charge, but if it was longer we would have took it as well.”
She embraces her name and her mission now.
“First, I used to run from it, honestly. There were only mostly negative experiences. We grew up in a predominantly white school, and it was an amazing school, but at times I was treated a certain way because of my name. We went from a predominantly white school to Harlem every day, because we had choir rehearsal or usher rehearsal at church. And those people treated me some type of way because of my name as well. Once I realized who I was and accepted it, I began to love myself. And everything fell into place.”
She said she never realized her dad was on trial while she was in school. “When my dad was running for president, people were looking at me crazy but I didn’t know anything. Looking back, it makes sense now. I respected my mom and my dad because they really protected us from that world. He wasn’t always loved. Outside of our community he wasn’t loved, but they really protected us from that. Once I did my research, he became like Superman to me because of all the things he went through, all of the things he accomplished. He didn’t graduate college. He was a regular young man and he went through all this strife. I had to honor that legacy.”
Knowing who he is and was helped her to find herself. “It brought everything full circle,” she said.